Ain't I A Lawyer?
Ok, I'm not, but I really think I will be soon, and a public defender too, I hope, so you can understand why I find this little story so simultaneously sad and funny. If you don't laugh you might cry, right?
And you know, there's a reason people have this misperception that public defenders are not lawyers, that they're “public pretenders,” and/or that they are somehow complicit in trying to punish their clients. That reason is that prosecutors and most legislators and public figures don't like public defenders. Defending criminals is not popular with voters, its importance doesn't fit easily into soundbites, so it is always, always dissed. And so our cultural is drowning in the message that public defenders (and all other indigent criminal defense attorneys) are somehow either incompetent or ineffective, when most of the time just the opposite is true.
Stories like The $40 Lawyer (which I will post more about soon) don't exactly help, but they present the chicken/egg question: Does media coverage like that make people think less of PDs, or does the fact that people already think less of PDs simply encourage stories like The $40 Lawyer?
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I wonder if a name change is in order? For example, lets start calling those who represent indigent clients "public defense lawyers" instead of public defenders. I really think this would be helpful. Thoughts?
Posted by: JR at January 28, 2006 12:23 PM
That's a possibility, but I like the idea of being a "defender," don't you?
How about legislation requiring that public defenders get the same salaries and other resources (offices, staff) as prosecutors? That might begin to equalize the respect people feel toward the two sides of the process, no?
Posted by: ambimb at January 28, 2006 02:15 PM
I think "defender" is a good label, but the word "attorney" or "lawyer" would help indigents understand that their advocates are real members of the bar. But, as you suggest, the true solution is to give public defenders better resources and salaries. There isn't a good substitute for these.
Posted by: JR at January 28, 2006 02:46 PM
I always make a point of telling my clients, "My name is Blonde Justice, I'm a LAWYER with the Public Defender's office. I'm going to be your LAWYER on this case."
And anytime I call my clients I say, "This is Blonde Justice, your LAWYER." (Not "your public defender.")
I think it's helped a little bit with the "You a lawyer?" questions.
Posted by: blondejustice at January 28, 2006 09:48 PM
We *definitely* need to pay PDs more... part of the perception problem with PDs is that they don't get paid what they are worth/what they should be paid and, for better or worse, it society today that translates into a lack of respect.
Pity, because the right to adequate representation is one of the absolute greatest thing about our legal system.
Posted by: Dave! at January 28, 2006 11:42 PM
The other side gets it too -- my grandfather had someone call the office and request to speak to the prostituting attorney.
Posted by: Citations at January 30, 2006 11:53 AM
I still think the root issue is that for most people, including our clients, it does not compute that anyone would take an expensive education and waste it on 'those people' when he or she could be making the big bucks. And when I tell them I took a $20k pay cut to become a PD, some clients feel better, but most just think I'm nuts, but in a grudgingly competent way.
As for DA/PD pay, out here, starting APDs get paid more than starting ADAs, and The PD's salary is tied dollar-for-dollar with The DA's salary.
Posted by: Jack at January 31, 2006 05:53 PM